Formerly known as “many personality disorder,” dissociative identity disorder is an extremely misunderstood mental health illness in which a person’s mind is divided into multiple self-states. When triggered, a person with dissociative identity disorder (DID) may enter one of these states, which serve as protective mechanisms.
It affects approximately 1.5% of the global population.
Rarely identified in childhood, people with DID spend an average of seven years in the mental health system seeking treatment for their “disturbing” symptoms. Insider spoke with Dr. Richard Loewenstein, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. According to Loewenstein, who saw his first DID patient in 1981, individuals with the disorder are misdiagnosed an average of four times prior to receiving a DID diagnosis.
Mental health specialists can identify DID in adults through a series of in-depth interviews that consider symptoms such as amnesia and suicidal ideation, according to him. According to Loewenstein, however, DID symptoms manifest differently in children compared to adults.
Specialists in DID have not agreed on a certain age at which someone can be diagnosed, according to Loewenstein, but it is conceivable to observe symptoms in children as young as six.
According to Loewenstein, the following factors and symptoms indicate that a child may have DID.
They claim to have imaginary companions that force them to act
According to Loewenstein, children with DID dissociate with a simpler structure than adults with DID.
Dissociative adults have a tendency to have more distinct self-states in which they personify particular qualities in a limited and stereotypical manner. Self-states are frequently contradictory, stated Loewenstein. One self-state may be homosexual and the other homophobic, or one could be male and the other female, regardless of the basic personhood of the man.
These states are less developed in children who are still discovering who they are and what they are capable of becoming. They may instead claim to have imaginary companions.
“However, the imaginary friends are independent and either make individuals feel compelled to perform things or take over a portion of their body,” Loewenstein explained.
According to him, for children with the disorder, “it’s much more in the mind and much less coming out into the world” and influencing behavior, unlike in adults with DID.
They were raised in an abusive family or endured multiple instances of abuse.
According to Loewenstein, not everyone who experiences childhood trauma such as abuse or abandonment will acquire DID because there may be a hereditary component to the condition.
However, if a child frequently feels alone, out of control, and frightened, they may dissociate to protect themselves and carry this behavior into adulthood.
Loewenstein emphasized that abuse and abandonment can occur outside the home and away from parents.
There are situations in which young children who have undergone many surgeries are left in the hospital to heal without their parents.
If a child is sexually assaulted frequently by someone other than his or her parents, it can have the same effect.
Loewenstein stated, “The only option is to leave their mind,” which can lead to DID.
Their parents are diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.
About one-third of moms with DID were “capable or extraordinary mothers,” while 16% were “grossly abusive” and the rest were “compromised or handicapped as parents,” according to a 1987 research. There are no studies on fathers with DID.
Parents with DID may unwittingly “configure their children’s states to be extremely similar to their own states,” according to Loewenstein’s findings.
Loewenstein stated that if a parent gets triggered when their child is there, they may perceive their child as a dangerous person rather than a child. If he observes that this trend is accompanied by violence, the first action is to contact child protection services and possibly criminal enforcement. Loewenstein stated that the separation can prevent a parent with DID from entangling their children in their self-states.
In treatment, he has observed mothers with elementary school-aged children. If the child commits an act that angers the mother, he has observed the mother transition into a “angry violent state,” causing the child to enter “a terrified little state” in which they become quiet and physically retreat.
Due to amnesia, “then you try to get them out, but they swap back and neither of them remember what happened,” Loewenstein explained.
According to Loewenstein, this conduct can lead to the child of DID.